Review: Senran Kagura: Estival Versus (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Tamsoft
Genre: Beat-’em-up
Release Date: 3/15/2016

It’s amazing how in just a few short years, Senran Kagura has exploded into the franchise that it is today. Featuring several games spread across multiple consoles, an anime series, and even crossovers with other titles; what started as an experiment in viewing breasts in 3D has now become a runaway hit for Tamsoft and Marvelous. Perhaps more impressive is that each entry somehow manages to pack in more characters and content than the last. One wonders how long they can keep the momentum up before it plateaus. Fortunately for them, it won’t start with their latest effort just released on PlayStation 4 and Vita.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a followup to 2014’s Shinovi Versus for the Vita. The kunoichi of Hanzo, Hebijo, Gessen, and the Crimson Squad are all back as a strange light suddenly appears and transports them all to a deserted tropical island in order to participate in a competition known as the Shinobi Bon Dance. Just what is the purpose of this event? That’s what you’ll spend the bulk of your missions finding out, while occasionally breaking for a little fun on the beach.

The franchise has always worn fan service on its sleeve, but Estival Versus in particular is less interested in pretending to tell a serious narrative than it normally is. This isn’t to say that it suffers from poor writing or that there aren’t genuine heartfelt moments spread throughout, because there are. But many of the story arcs presented consist of the type of material normally reserved for the side unlockable missions, such as contests where the various ninja stuff each others’ mouths with panties or Haruka’s desperate attempt to escape an oil rubdown. I was also bothered by the lack of closure to the story that we did get. I’m aware that the game is likely to get more sequels, but I don’t always like to be reminded of it by way of cliffhanger endings.

In addition to the story missions, there are a selection of side attractions by way of Shinobi Girl’s Heart. These are a set of quests exclusive to each character of the game that will either flesh out their backstory or provide some sort of dilemma that plays on the traits of the girl in question. And if that weren’t enough, there are a couple of special missions in addition to that, one of which will give you a sneak peek at the OVA based on the game. A day one patch adds extra characters and content purchasable at the shop, and as of this writing, there are several paid DLC items to expand your experience even further. Bottom line, there’s plenty to do, even if the plot isn’t as impressive as it was in prior games.

Combat is much the same as it was in Shinovi Versus (and if you haven’t, I highly encourage you to check out my review for that game if you’re curious about the core gameplay, as it’s relatively unchanged). As such, you’re still engaging in Dynasty Warriors style beat-’em-up combat where dealing damage causes clothing to shred. A few additions were made to the battles to make the proceedings a little more varied. One minor tweak is the ability to run and fight on walls. While I thought this was cool, its practicality is limited. There are only a few surfaces that will let you run on them and your character won’t stay on them long before running to the end and jumping off or getting forcibly removed by the enemy.

Also new, but almost entirely cinematic in nature, are the Creative Finishers. The various zones where you do battle are littered with sign posts and defeating a boss character near one of these signs (or being defeated for that matter) will cause them to shed their clothing entirely and will subsequently be subjected to anything from being spanked with drumsticks to getting kicked into a soccer net. They’re as ridiculous as they sound, and add some flair to defeating the opposing schools. If you happen to have fellow ninjas fighting by your side, sending enemies flying gives you an opportunity to double team them in midair, causing serious hurt on any foes unlucky enough to be in range. Which is good, because your computer controlled teammates are pretty worthless otherwise. Bombs with inflictable status effects are hidden in various containers and are usable as an additional method of dishing out some pain. Some “bombs” transform into summoned comrades and controllable mechs to help out in a pinch.

If you’re comfortable enough to share the Senran Kagura experience with others, a selection of multiplayer modes once again can be selected for both local and online play. The few times I tried to go online, there weren’t any active matches, though fortunately you can still play with bots if you really want to try it out. Point battles are fairly self explanatory in that defeating or shredding the clothing of enemies will net points for your team, and whomever earns the most wins. Shinobi Deathmatch is very similar, only you’re competing to keep your lives rather than battle for points. For those that want a straight battle with a twist, Walker Battle throws a handful of puppet walkers into the mix. Bouts of Understorm will cause underwear to fall from the sky and players have to gather as many as they can. Capture the Bra is effectively capture the flag, but with undergarments. Finally, Shinobi Survival sees four players working cooperatively to defend festival platforms from waves of enemies.

Estival Versus is visually on par with the previous game on the Vita, though I suspect the PS4 version would be a bit of a step up. It runs really well too, even when there are a ton of enemies on screen, though it does occasionally run into some slowdown. Loading times are a bit on the atrocious side, forcing you to gawk at tool tips when navigating between menus, before and after battles, and sometimes during battles when you wait for boss characters to show up. The dub is once again Japanese only, but considering this has been the standard for the whole franchise in the west, I didn’t expect this to change. The soundtrack is fairly expansive too, which is nice for extended play sessions (not hearing the same looping tracks over and over again and such).

Sadly, there’s no cross buy between the two versions, though if you do happen to own both, you can share save data between the two games. Other features include an in-game shop where you can buy all the visuals to view when convenient and clothing items to customize the girls with. If you’re feeling frisky, the Dressing Room makes its return, putting you in control of what the characters wear. They can also be posed for screenshots, and using the touchscreen grants you the ability to do to them exactly what you might expect.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is another stellar entry into the over-the-top brawler franchise. The base mechanics hardly changed at all from the other Vita entry, and the plot is the least interesting one they’ve done yet. However, Tamsoft has built onto the core by adding new features, even more characters with varying combat styles, and tons of missions (each with several difficulty levels to play through). Newcomers to the franchise are better off starting with Shinovi Versus if they can, but regardless of where they begin, they’ll find an addictive beat-’em-up title full of fan service with a side of fan service.

Short Attention Span Summary
If you enjoyed the prior Vita game, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus will be right up your alley. It combines the frantic combat of its predecessor with even more characters and gameplay enhancements, including Creative Finishers and the ability to run on walls. The plot is weak by comparison, featuring more fluff than the substantial character building excursions of the past, though those looking for a little more fan service than was already available won’t have to look far. Between the plethora of missions, adjustable difficulty levels, and unlockable gear, players definitely get plenty of bang for their buck. The online components certainly don’t hurt either provided they can find a game. If you don’t mind a little repetition and revealing outfits in your ninja combat, you’ve come to the right place.


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